Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.

Section 219: Trying hard to find the Twins' Hot Stove

Posted by: Howard Sinker Updated: January 23, 2013 - 11:30 AM

This is the weekend that marks the beginning of the beginning of talking baseball -- at least for the people who don't do it 24/7/365. TwinsFest is at the Metrodome and Julian Loscalzo's raucous Hot Stove Banquet (more on that below) will be held Friday night on Nicollet Island. La Velle is in the office talking about getting ready for Florida -- securing the condo and all that -- and others are making their plans for Florida.

I'm trying to get revved up too.

First off, here's my deal. Everyone now and again, someone will comment about the hypocrisy of buying tickets for a pain that has offered so little but pain over the last couple of years. Spare me that, OK? Baseball is baseball is baseball, and a day at the park is better than a day doing most other things. That's the pull of the game. (It's OK for you to argue that, just not with me.)

Second off, because I'm not going away, I think it enhances my right to be grumpy about the Twins. Weak and uncertain up the middle (aside from Joe Mauer), unsettled at third base, center field and right field, oddly overhauled as a coaching staff, I'm in the group that's trying to figure out what's going on. Sure, Aaron Hicks (out of necessity) is going to get a chance to win the center field job, but I'm guessing he has the same chance in 2013 as I have to win a Hopkins Tavern meat raffle.

I was reading a piece about Mauer and I thought he'd waived his no-trade clause when I saw that he said that one of his goals for 2013 is "to get back to the playoffs."

If I'm Mauer, looking at a team that seems to be building for 2015, I think I'd be peeved that the first half of my eight-year contract appears to be getting sacrificed to seasons closer to 100 losses than playoff contention. I'd be peeved that ownership isn't building a better bridge to the anticipated success when the talented minor-leaguers are supposed to be solid major league contributors.

This off-season feels incomplete. My shorthand view: The Twins have added enough veteran starting pitching not to be embarrassing, I think. I appreciate that Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano and Matt Capps are history and that we're not being asked to believe that the fill-ins from last summer, as hard as they tried, learned enough to be competent in 2013. Sam, Cole, P.J. and the guys tried their best, which was good enough en masse to keep the Twins from losing 100 games. Maybe one of you becomes the fifth starter. Good luck with that.

But where's the rest of it? Being asked to buy Darin Mastroianni as the likely center fielder and some combination of players led by Chris Parmelee in right makes me wonder if the Twins should have offered $800,000 to outbid the Phillies and the $750,000 they used to land Delmon Young. I would have thrown up, but just a little.

Guys have passed through the free-agent market -- and some are still out there -- who could at least create the appearance that the Twins have some interest in being competitive in 2013. In baseball's newly expanded postseason world, it does not take a whole lot to build a team that can be viewed as a wild-card contender.

Instead, the Twins are entering spring training unsettled in their lineup at every position except catcher (Mauer), first base (Justin Morneau) and left field (Josh Willingham). That's weak. Forgive me for not being excited about which combination of Jamey Carroll, Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar ends up seeing the most time at second base and shortstop. Are we look at a return to the years when Jason Tyner and his ilk filled the DH role?

Yes, it's cool to look down the road at what the Twins could have in 2015 -- or maybe 2014 if the track is faster than many anticipate. (An ESPN post from earlier this week put their "optimal year of contention" at 2016.) But I really, truly and honestly believe that more should have been done to give Twins fans reasons for hope right now. It wouldn't have taken that much, and there was no reason not to go there.

***

OK, let's get cheerful for a moment. I don't spend as much time there as many of you, but TwinsFest is fun and worth the visit. Over the year, the Section 219 posse has done just about everything that can be done there -- with the exception of the National Anthem auditions -- and Youngest 219 got her picture in the paper a few years back when Johan Santana signed her Venezuelan flag. (Yes, it was a happier baseball time.)

 

 

But for the best list of tips, go to K-Bro's recent post -- and take her advice seriously.

One of the best baseball times is the annual Hot Stove League banquet put on by Julian Loscalzo and his rogue band of baseball fans. It's being held Friday at the Nicollet Island Pavilion, which isn't far from the Metrodome, and $35 gets you dinner and an evening hanging out with Tom Brunansky, Dave St. Peter and others. Stuff gets auctioned off, beer is consumed and you always leave feeling a bit better than you did when you arrived. First drinks are at 5:45 p.m.

And if you're looking for a post-TwinsFest gathering on Saturday, our TwinsCentric colleagues are having a party starting at 6 p.m. at Hubert's, across the street from the Metrodome. They are promising free beer to the earliest arrivals and giveaways throughout the night. That's reason enough to go, right?

 

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